This is Part I of a Two Part Article
How The Common Core DevelopedThe Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for K-12 education were adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in the Spring of 2010. Those standards had not yet been written at the time, so they actually were adopted sight unseen. The CCSS were an initiative by the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to standardize the teaching of English language arts and mathematics and later science and social studies for all states. The goal of the NGA and CCSSO was to modernize the teaching of those basic skills areas to raise the level of achievement of American students to a higher world class ranking and to make American students more competitive for the world job market.
There were no public hearings explaining the contents of the CCSS before their adoption. There was really nothing to share with the public at that time except that the standards were intended to be state of the art learning with emphasis on rigor and critical thinking skills for our students. From the very beginning, the push for the new standards did not come from parents or even from classroom teachers. It came from non-classrom teacher elites who believed they had the answer to improving U.S. student performance compared to other countries.
The driving force for the development of the CCSS came from the National Governor's Association with heavy influence from the Hunt Institute and philanthropic organizations such as the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and a group called Achieve. (Thank you to Dr. Mercedes Schneider for finding the news stories explaining the involvement of these groups in proposing this standards effort.) The Obama administration as represented by Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan bought into the project from the very beginning. In June, 2009 Duncan announced that 350 million dollars of Race to the Top federal funding had been earmarked for development of the Common Core Assessments. That's the standardized testing that goes with Common Core.
Much of the motivation for this initiative was the claim by some groups such as Achieve Inc. and the Hunt Institute that the United States had fallen far behind other industrialized countries in performance of our students in the basic skills of English, Math and Science. This conclusion was based on the U.S. ranking well below the leading countries on the international student assessment called PISA and an international test of achievement in math and science called TIMSS. It was assumed by these groups that the U.S. ranking compared to other countries must have dropped drastically in recent years.
These conclusions have been seriously challenged recently by education historian Diane Ravitch in her book about American education reform called Reign of Error, and by several university researchers who have pointed out that if the samples of students taking these tests had been more fairly designed, the U. S. would have ranked much higher. Researchers have shown that if poverty levels of students in the different countries were properly matched with our country, the U.S. would rank near the top in comparison to other countries. Ravitch points out that the U.S. students have never performed better than they do today on the international rankings, but that our average achievement statistics are greatly lowered by the much higher than average percentage of high poverty students in our student population than exists in the countries that outrank us on the two international tests.
There is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging and even pushing our students to do better in the basic skills of reading, math and science, and encouraging more of our students to attend college and major in science and math fields. But this could have been done much more effectively and more economically with basic incentives for students such as scholarships and math/science promotions as was done in the early sixties and seventies to encourage students to choose math and science fields. That effort really worked and helped get me and many others into the math/science field. Instead it was decided by the National Governor's Association and also very quickly by the Obama administration that there must be a complete overhaul of the standards and curriculum for K-12 education in our country. It was decided by these non-educators that the U.S. should force or mandate that all students achieve at higher levels in certain basic academic areas. No consideration apparently was given to upgrading the training of students in vocational and technical skills which are also known to produce high paying jobs that boost the economies of nations. Germany for example, is known to have an excellent non-university level of skills training for high tech jobs in their workforce. This system has enabled Germany to prevent the outsourcing of industrial jobs to cheaper workers in other countries such as what we have seen with U. S. jobs. But the elite foundations pushing this initiative in our country decided to place major emphasis on preparing most of our students to enter and succeed at the university level.
It turns out that even though Louisiana became the poster child for the Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards, Louisiana never won the Race to the Top grants, but we did spend millions of our state dollars preparing and competing for the standards. State Treasurer, John Kennedy went before legislative committees to question the millions of dollars in no bid contracts that went to various outside corporations and groups to prepare for more testing and the data collection required by the competition. That's at the same time that state funding for basic education was cut to the bone and some parishes started laying off teachers.
This is where the project went astray in my opinion. It was apparently assumed from the very beginning that the primary purpose of the CCSS would be to promote critical thinking skills such as those tested by the SAT that were thought to be needed for success in college. Therefore it was believed that the writers of the standards should be experts mostly at the university level or from academically oriented education reform think tanks. Regular classroom teachers at the K-12 level were not part of the writing team. In particular, there were no experts in early childhood education on the writing team.